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Nurturing Texas' Native Landscapes

Wildflower Center Works With AMD to Keep Central Texas Green

The Wildflower Center was awarded an AMD landscape research grant and has played a key role in designing AMD's new environmentally sensitive Austin campus.

Texas' expansive grasslands and rich soil have provided food for millions of people, while the prairie's subtle beauty has inspired many artists. However, less than five percent of all grasslands worldwide are protected, and the prairie is dwindling rapidly as the nation's population swells.

This June, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) helped preserve Texas' critical open space when it announced a $100,000 landscape restoration grant to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The announcement came during opening ceremonies for AMD's new "Lone Star" campus in Austin. Environmental organizations across the state submitted proposals for three available grants AMD awarded as part of its $1.5 million dollar commitment in this area.

The two-year grant received by the Wildflower Center will support an ongoing research project to identify cost-effective ways of maintaining the ecological health of Texas grasslands. The project will provide grassland managers with feedback on the best maintenance practices and study the effects of natural treatments such as fire. Visitors to the center will be able to see the results of fire ecology research along a one-mile interpreted trail.

In nature, fires provide nutrients essential to plant life and often eliminate species that aren't native to a region. While investigating different ways to use this historical approach to maintain the land, center researchers have determined that summer burns can effectively control the spread of invasive grasses such as King Ranch bluestem. Prescribed burns also reduce the amount of vegetation that can cause wildfires.

AMD not only provided funding for Wildflower Center research, but collaborated with the center in designing the new campus. Based on the recommendations of Wildflower Center staff, about 5,000 native trees, shrubs and grasses from the construction site were removed, potted and temporarily stored at the Wildflower Center during construction. The harvested vegetation, most of which has been replanted on the Lone Star site, would have cost more than $100,000 to purchase.

The center also worked with landscape architects to develop a site-appropriate native plant list  for the formal areas of the Lone Star landscape, including buffalo grass, little bluestem grass and ferns. These natives plants are generally  hardier, less susceptible to pests and diseases and require less water than non-native plants.

Since the campus is located above the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer, protecting the surrounding environment was a top priority during construction. The Wildflower Center collaborated with ACI Consulting to minimize disturbance to the landscape during construction. In addition, large amounts of topsoil from the site were removed before construction began and returned after construction was completed, and trees that were deemed unsalvageable were turned into mulch and used on site.

Protecting water quality was also important during construction. Wildflower Center staff members worked with LJA Engineering & Surveying Inc. to develop an innovative treatment system for storm water runoff from the roads when that water couldn't be reused on the landscape.

The Wildflower Center also provided input on the AMD campus' rainwater harvesting system, which can hold 1.5 million gallons of water and may be the largest system of this type nationally. The system includes numerous "butterfly roofs" which slope down more sharply than normal to help collect rainwater.  Water collected from these roofs and parking garages, combined with air conditioning condensate, is used to irrigate the campus' landscape.

The center will continue working with AMD to restore areas of the Lone Star landscape that were exposed to previous, intensive grazing. Wildflower Center Landscape Restoration Director Steve Windhager said, "The AMD Lone Star campus is one of several projects we are involved in to encourage sustainability and landscape restoration among Central Texas builders and business-owners in the hopes that others locally and nationally will follow this trend."

© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center